AN AMAZING GRAIN
Before the term "agribusiness" had been coined, and before huge refineries began scraping the nutrients off of wheat, there were flour mills located by streams and rivers in most towns and villages. Farmers from the surrounding area would bring wagon loads of grain to the miller who would adjust the grindstones so that they rubbed off the outside hull, or husk. Once done, the miller would store the whole grain kernels until he needed them for flour. This flour, once ground, was then used for baking bread, cake, and muffins. In parts of Europe, this grain was also used to make pasta.
When asked to identify this grain, most people would, without hesitation, say that it was wheat. Right?
Until about 1920, most of the grain used to produce flour was an older, hardier cousin of wheat, which today goes by the name of Spelt. It is estimated that in 1910 there were 600,000 acres of Spelt harvested annually in this country alone. Today there are about 4000 acres, a big increase from the almost "0" acre figure that was true in the 1970's.
The last decade has witnessed a resurgence in the popularity of Spelt, not only because it has a much richer, more flavorful taste, but because it is far more nutritious than its less robust, overhybridized cousin, wheat. Even whole wheat, which has not yet been stripped of its fiber and nutrients, cannot stand up to Spelt in either the flavor department or the nutrient department.
Why then, one might ask, has wheat flour filled the shelves of almost all grocery stores, while Spelt is available almost exclusively at health and nutrition stores?
The answer is simple. Spelt does not lend itself well to agribusiness. While wheat loses its husk during the harvesting, or threshing process, Spelt does not. It retains its husk, requiring two separate grindings compared to just one for wheat. In the vast sweep of economics, agribusiness and technology, it was easy to let Spelt fall by the wayside. This in spite of the fact that the husk, though inefficient for purposes of grinding, did have some advantages. Spelt's tough outer husk helps to protect the kernel from pesticides and insects at the same time that it helps to retain valuable nutrients and fiber.
In the flavor department, there is no comparison. Anyone who has tried Spelt will tell you it has a richer, fuller flavor than its relatively flat and lifeless cousin, wheat. Some people describe it as "nutty", and most think it is delicious. It works well as a pasta with all of the same sauces used on ordinary wheat-based pastas. As bread, muffins and pancakes, Spelt is far more flavorful and enjoyable.
In the nutrition department, Spelt rules - especially when compared to wheat. A plate full of whole grain spelt pasta can provide as much as half of the USDA recommended guidelines for protein. In fact, 2 ounces of Spelt contains 10 grams of protein. The same portion of all purpose white wheat flour contains 2.74 grams of protein.
Impressed? Try this: A 2 ounce portion of whole grain Spelt flour contains a whopping 5.27 grams of fiber, while the same portion of all purpose white wheat flour contains less than 1.8 grams.
The numbers become more significant when you run them up the flagpole. Not only is Spelt rich in protein, but these proteins, in turn, contain all of the eight essential amino acids needed by the human body. These amino acids are called "essential" because the body cannot manufacture them. If you don't eat them, you don't get them.
Consumers who tend to be cynical about the value of amino acids in our bodies should check out a partial list of the tasks they assist with:
* reducing joint inflammation
* preventing hair, skin and nail disorders
* lowering cholesterol
* reducing liver fat
* protecting kidneys
* reducing bladder irritation
* stress and depression reduction
* relieving migraine headaches
* assisting the immune system
* reducing the risk of artery and heart spasms
* calcium absorption
* collagen formation
* antibody, hormone and enzyme production
* transmission of signals between the nerve cells and the brain
* maintaining alertness
* memory improvement
* digestive and intestinal tract functioning
* muscle coordination
* mental vigor
* manufacture of other essential biochemical components
If the case for amino acids isn't persuasive enough, then consider dietary fiber. Today the average American consumes only about 11 grams of fiber daily compared to the 25-30 grams recommended by most nutritionists. This low fiber diet is in part responsible for escalating rates of a variety of serious intestinal disorders in the US. Although it is not digested and contains no nutrients, fiber acts like tiny scouring pads in the intestinal tract, sweeping the intestinal walls free of accumulated toxins and contaminants. Without these periodic "scourings", the risk of contracting any one of several lower tract ailments increases dramatically. These ailments include colon and bowel cancer, colitis, diverticulitis, and hemorrhoids.
Interested? Persons who would like to try some Spelt will have to put just a little extra effort into it. Until recently, the market for this delicious and nutritious grain was almost exclusively the super health conscious, athletes, and persons with wheat allergies. Today, more and more consumers are becoming aware and alert regarding healthy options to the traditional agribusiness fare; and the market for this grain is expanding rapidly. Those who are interested in flavor and nutrition will still find Spelt in health and nutrition stores, and they will find it just as delicious and nutritious as it was a century ago.
Bioavailability and Spelt
Bioavailability is more than just a long, complicated word. It's a physical process which more and more health and nutrition-conscious people are using to evaluate the benefits of the food they eat. They may not even know they're evaluating "bioavailability." But smart people everywhere are catching on to the concept, even if they don't know the name for it.
Strictly speaking, bioavailability refers to the percentage of nutrients you eat which are actually digested, absorbed and put to use by your system. In general, nutrients consumed in the "food state" have higher rates of bioavailability than dietary food supplements taken in tablet or liquid form. Nutritionists feel that "food state" nutrients are naturally combined with hosts of other ingredients which help the body to recognize it as food. It doesn't matter how well your automobile engine is running if there are no tires to get it around. And it doesn't matter how nutritious your food is if the nutrients don't reach the places where they can do you some good.
Spelt is a grain which was originally grown in Europe thousands of years ago. Legend has it that it was used to nourish warriors in the area now known as Germany. It so impressed the Roman Legionnaires doing battle with the Germans that they began to use it, too. Eventually, Spelt migrated to the United States. Until the Industrial Revolution in the early 20th century, over a half million acres of Spelt were harvested annually in this country.
In the vast sweep of agribusiness and technology, though, Spelt fell by the wayside. As the focus shifted to economics and productivity, issues like nutrition and flavor fell by the wayside. Now Spelt is making a comeback. Consumers are more apt to be making wise choices regarding health and nutrition, and in these departments Spelt rules.
Spelt contains all of the eight essential amino acids your body needs in order to keep you looking good and feeling fit. It's more nutritious, more flavorful, and it's easily digested. This "digestibility" makes it possible for many wheat-sensitive people to enjoy it as well.
No one is sure why Spelt is so easily digested, but it may have something to do with the way it "mixes." Where wheat may require 10 minutes of mixing when making bread, Spelt mixes in just 3.5 minutes. This same "mixability" may apply during chewing, swallowing and absorption into the small intestines; resulting in a greater surface area for the digestive enzymes to work on. These enzymes, then, are responsible for breaking Spelt's protein molecules into amino acids. These acids are absorbed into the bloodstream and carried to places where they can do some good.
In other words, Spelt rates high in the bioavailability department, too. The nutrients in Spelt get to the places where they're needed, and they get there without requiring much work on your part. Your body can use its energy reservoirs to fight off diseases and environmental toxins instead of using it to digest dinner.
The "availability" in the word bioavailability is also important. Spelt pasta can be stored indefinitely if you keep it free of pests. Even years from now the proteins, fiber and fatty acids contained in Spelt pasta can be cooked and enjoyed, providing you with complex carbohydrates, fatty acids, protein, and fiber when you need it. Spelt pasta is easy to store, easy to prepare, and easy to digest. On top of that, it's rich, nutty flavor is delicious with all of the same sauces used on ordinary pasta.
So keep the word bioavailability in mind when planning your food and nutrition needs. Spelt products provide a delicious source of many nutrients - nutrients which are better at getting to the places where they can do you some good. You'll find VitaSpelt products in health and nutrition stores, as well as some speciality grocery stores.
Allergies, Bioavailability, and Nutrition
Some things to think about...
In order to establish healthier eating patterns, many nutrition-conscious people are changing their eating habits to include more grain and less meat.
For some people this works just fine. Others, though, have a range of "borderline allergies" they aren't even aware of which under ordinary circumstances cause them no trouble. Something like a change in diet can, however, tip the scales and trigger a reaction. From then on, it's all downhill. Even foods which previously caused no trouble can suddenly be "in your face," causing swelling, sneezing, congestion, and the much-dreaded sinusitis. This is not an uncommon syndrome - you probably know someone yourself who has gone through most of life allergy-free, only to develop serious reactions to a whole host of foods and airborne particles in mid-life.
Stresses such as these can sap your strength fast, leaving you with less energy to fight major threats such as viruses, bacteria, environmental toxins and cancerous cells.
Grain should be an important component of everyone's diet. But when choosing grain, take into consideration two important issues: 1) Potential Allergies and 2) Nutrition.
Most persons with wheat allergies can eat Spelt, probably because of the relative ease with which it is digested. Even people with serious allergies who for years have avoided bread, pasta, pancakes, muffins and many other delicious foods have discovered they can enjoy Spelt. The good news is it is every bit as flavorful as wheat-based products, and way more nutritious. Spelt provides a balanced source of protein because it contains all of the eight essential amino acids - in fact two plates of Spelt pasta provides you with all of your daily protein requirement.
Consider, also, that the energy in Spelt is "complex carbohydrates" - basically a long chain of hundreds, sometimes thousands, of glucose molecules. From a nutritional standpoint, this long chain of energy-packed molecules is important because it digests slowly compared, for example, to table sugar and many other "refined" products. This makes the energy in Spelt available over the long haul and accounts for its use for "carbohydrate loading" by athletes before competition.
So why is all of this true? Where does Spelt get its vitality and "edge?"
Maybe the answer rests in the fact that Spelt is a natural grain - one which has been around for thousands of years. It hasn't been hybridized over and over again to make it yield more per acre. It is naturally resistant to insect pests and diseases such as the "rust" which so often pervades wheat crops. In fact, an association representing wheat growers lists rust prevention and increased yield as their main objectives - never once mentioning either flavor or nutrition.
In short, Spelt is grain the way nature made it. It may or may not be because we didn't try to fool Mother Nature, but the end result is a grain that is more flavorful, more nutritious, and easier to digest.
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